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Colorado's Pot Laws Target Blacks and Latinos

The stark racial disparities of marijuana enforcement will influence Colorado's upcoming legalization vote.


NAACP leader Rosemary Harris Lytle at a
Colorado conference Photo via

By May Wilkerson


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Marijuana law enforcement in Colorado, which has resulted in over 210,000 arrests in the past 25 years, disproportionately targets the state's black and Latino communities, as a new report illustrates. According to the Marijuana Possession Arrests In Colorado, 1986-2010 report, compiled from over two decades of FBI data, latinos have a 1.5 higher chance of being arrested for marijuana, and blacks have a 3.1 higher chance—even though whites are found to use pot more. The report was the first breakdown to include stats from the Latino community, even though, “discrimination against Latinos has gone hand in hand with marijuana prohibition since its establishment," says Denise Maes, director of public policy for the ACLU of Colorado. 

The report was presented at a conference held by the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, the pro-legalization group behind Colorado's Amendment 64—a November ballot measure seeking to legalize pot and regulate recreational use of the drug for adults. "Marijuana prohibition is taking a toll on all Coloradans, and it is our communities of color that are paying the biggest price," says Rosemary Harris Lytle, president of the local chapter of the NAACP, which voiced its support for Amendment 64 earlier this year. The measure, which Coloradans will vote on in two weeks, is drawing attention to an ongoing, nationwide problem. African Americans across the US are 13 times more likely to go to jail for the same drug-related offenses as white people, and make up 53.5% of all imprisoned drug offenders, according to a 2011 statement by the NAACP. "Law enforcement resources should be used to address violent and otherwise harmful crimes," says Lytle. "They should not be directed toward the enforcement of irrational marijuana laws that disproportionately impact African-Americans and other people of color. It is time for a more sensible approach.” 

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